LIFE OF BARON BUNSEN
A Memoir of Baron Bunsen. By his Widow, Baroness Bunsen. Saturday
Review, 2nd May 1868.
Bunsen was really one of those persons, more common two centuries ago than now, who could belong as much to an adopted country as to that in which they were born and educated. A German of the Germans, he yet succeeded in also making himself at home in England, in appreciating English interests, in assimilating English thought and traditions, and exercising an important influence at a critical time on one extremely important side of English life and opinion. He was less felicitous in allying the German with the Englishman, perhaps from personal peculiarities of impatience, self-assertion, and haste, than one who has since trodden in his steps and realised more completely and more splendidly some of the great designs which floated before his mind. But few foreigners have gained more fairly, by work and by sympathy, the droit de cite in England than Bunsen.
It is a great pity that books must be so long and so bulky, and though Bunsen’s life was a very full and active one in all matters of intellectual interest, and in some of practical interest also, we cannot help thinking that his biography would have gained by greater exercise of self-denial on the part of his biographer. It is altogether too prolix, and the distinction is not sufficiently observed between what is interesting simply to the Bunsen family and their friends, and what is interesting to the public. One of the points in which biographers, and the present author among the number, make mistakes, is in their use of letters. They never know when to stop in giving correspondence. If we had only one or two letters of a remarkable map, they would be worth printing, even if they were very much like other people’s letters. But when we have bundles and letter-books without end to select from, selection, in a work professedly biographical, becomes advisable. We want types and specimens of a man’s letters; and when the specimen has been given, we want no more, unless what is given is for its own sake remarkable. A great number of Bunsen’s early letters are printed. Some of them are of much interest, showing how early the germs were formed of ideas and plans which occupied his life, and what were the influences by which he was surrounded, and how he comported himself in regard to them. But many more of these letters are what any young man of thought and of an affectionate nature might have written; and we do not want to have it shown us, over and over again, merely that Bunsen was thoughtful and affectionate. A wise and severe economy in this matter would have produced at least the same effect, at much less cost to the reader.